Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shooting Lessons pt. II: When in Doubt, Zoom out!!

     Now that I have trained myself to wait for my subject to be closer before recording and follow the previous rules, I have yet another bad habit to fix: zooming in too far. I am not quite sure why it is, but for some reason every time I see an aircraft approaching through my viewfinder/screen I zoom all the way in. Once I get home and see the video I am again disappointed that the video quality is less than what I remember when shooting.  Just like time compression in my previous post (Norm, you know what I'm talking about!).  The plane jumps all around the frame in a blurry mass if metal. Ever been there? Again, taking notes from my still photography, it took me a while to back off when I first got my Sigma 50-500mm lens. I wanted to be able to see the look on the pilots face as they passed by. Several years later that amusement has warn off for better things such as framing. Same should be done with my video. I need to back it off.
     Today, as a matter of fact, I applied this very rule, with very good results.  I can't see the pilots faces, but I can see the entire aircraft and its proximity to the ground.  This, I believe, makes for a much more pleasing clip.  Extreme closeups have their time and place but should be used sparingly.

     Just like in still photography, there is an exception.  Extreme closeups can be very cool, and add a lot of energy to your video.  However, it must be done with great consideration!  Here are some rules that I follow with my still photography and am trying to apply to video.
1.  Make it look intentional!  Clipping just the very end of the nose, tail, or wingtip looks sloppy.  If you want it full frame, zoom out a bit.  If you want it cropped, zoom in so as your viewer knows you are trying to focus on one particular aspect of the aircraft.

2.  Make it look smooth!  At least, as smooth as possible.  You never know if you don't try, right?  Try to find a zoom range that works for you and your equipment and make a mental note for yourself to NEVER go beyond that range.  Make a small mark on your camera if you need to. 

3.  Just like real life pilots, make yourself some personal minimums.  Go practice shooting and determine the amount of zoom that you like for those shots you MUST keep in the future.  But, be sure that when the moment counts, you don't press your luck and assume you'll be "just fine" this time out.  I've ruined too many amazing photo opportunities because of this.  Some photographers will tell you to take the risk, I tend to say err on the conservative side.  I'd rather have a clip that leaves me wanting more, than one that leaves me wanting less.

Equipment Consideration:

Not all image stabilization is created equal, and none are perfect!

Again, consider your focus points.  I know I mentioned this in the last post, but you must be aware of the focus point(s) in the camera you are using.  I cannot tell you how many times I wanted have nice 1/3 framing, only to find my camera kept trying to focus on a blank background, which ruined the shot.  In this case, what I should have done is zoom out more so I can still keep my subject in the center (focus point) and the ground on the bottom portion of the screen.

I hope these tips help in some way, either in shooting video or still photography!  Please comment below and share with your friends!

Blue skies and happy shooting!!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Shooting Lessons: Pt. I - Patience

This lesson is about patience, waiting for that perfect moment to start recording your video.  

I'm finding that learning to shoot video is much the same as learning to shoot still photographs.  Though I have been photographing airplanes for ten years now, I feel as though I'm starting from the beginning when it comes to video.  A perfect example of this is wanting to shoot everything I see, even when the aircraft/subject is waaaaaay off in the distance.  To the naked eye it "looks cool" and sometimes even through the view-finder/display screen it may look especially cool, since I can zoom in on the subject.  However, once I get home and sit down at the computer and review it, I realize I wasted 40 seconds of video which I could have used later in the day, on a subject I can hardly even see.

Lesson I - Patience:  Only shoot when your subject can fill 1/3 of the frame or more. 
Think of each clip you shoot as an individual photograph.  Would you want to sit and look at a speck of an airplane against a solid blue sky for 30-seconds?  Probably not.  Once that aircraft/subject fills at least 1/3 of the frame, you will be able to make out greater detail.

The other thing to take into consideration is that you will probably be at full zoom.  As we all know, trying to keep any camera rock-steady at full zoom is very, very difficult.  As a result, this video will be very shaky. That is, unless, you have a nice tripod setup.  In that case, I find it even more tempting to record when the subject is far away.  Remember to be patient, and keep your finger off the trigger until you can get a decent, interesting shot.

With every rule of photography there is an exception.  With this, the exception would be if you're trying to catch an interesting background or you're trying to capture the motion of the subject.  If you're at an airshow you may want to show an aircraft making an exceptionally tight turn, or rounding off the top of a loop or other aerobatic maneuver.  If you're at an airport spotting, you may want to show aircraft in the traffic pattern turning base to final.  For this to be successful, in my opinion, you must have a background other than solid blue sky.  Clouds, ground references, or maybe even airshow smoke must be visible to show motion.  This follows a lesson I will discuss at a later time, when in doubt, zoom out.

Equipment Consideration:  Focus point

With my Canon VIXIA HG20 I find it extremely challenging to record an interesting scene due to the fact this camera only has one focus point, and it is dead center.  As a result, this unfortunately means most of the time I cannot follow the rule of thirds.  If I want the subject in focus, it has to be in the middle.  Otherwise I get continuous focus searching, or a blurry subject.  If you have an older piece of equipment or one with limited functions, be aware of that and shoot accordingly.  Sure, in PP I can zoom and pan the scene, but this will result in a generally degraded image quality due to pixelation and increased noise.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

108 Years of Powered Flight

Today is the 108th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight of a powered aircraft! 

Enjoy this photo which spans 95 years of aviation history in the Curtiss JN-4D Jenny and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Summer Projects: Luftwaffe Day

Back in August my Sigma 50-500mm lens started having aperture problems, where it would just stay closed.  At first it would happen only occasionally, starting in July, but by the time "Luftwaffe Day" had approached, which was due to be Flying Heritage Collection's debut of the worlds ONLY airworthy Focke-Wulf 190A-5, I figured I better be ready for a backup plan and decided to bring my Canon camcorder along.

As I feared, the lens never recovered that morning, and I was forced to start shooting video.
This is the video that I shot that morning and thus began my conversion to shooting video exclusively:

This day represented the first time an original Fw-190 and an original Bf-109 had been in the air together since WWII.  The Fw-190 was piloted by Steve Hinton, and the 109 by Bud Granley.  Sitting behind me in a hangar was Legend Flyers Messerschmitt Me-262 which they had been test flying earlier that week.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Change of Direction

I do realize I have not yet posted a 2011 recap, which will greatly explain why the change of direction, however, I am currently making some breakthroughs which I believe are more important at this time.

What is the change of direction? VIDEO! Some issues came up early on in the 2011 flying season which disabled the use of my Sigma 50-500mm lens. So, as someone who tries to always be prepared, the day of its final failure, I was smart enough to bring along my trust Canon VIXIA HG20 HD camcorder. Since this moment in August, I have been exclusively been shooting the aviation events on video. I still get a TON of use out of my DSLR Canon RebelXT and Sigma 10-20mm, however, that has been strictly for static shots, and one VERY awesome air-to-air shoot.

Right now I am focusing my "off season" energy on improving my videos in whatever (CHEAP) ways I can. So far I have found many amazing resources online through Youtube that have allowed me to use supplies I already have to make some great video effects.

The greatest complaint I have had all summer long has to do with the challenge of using a 1lb camera in a way which eliminates/reduces the nightmare of camera-shake. The IS on this camera does help, however, in the grand scheme of things it really is not very apparent. The previous camcorder I had (non HD and non-functioning) had SUPERB IS. You could practically throw the thing and it remained absolutely rock-steady. This, however, is anything but.

The other complaint was the obnoxious wind-noise. The HG20 has a nice wind-cancelling feature which is about as useful as its IS. So, again, working with a budget of $0, I made a wind-shield having sacrificed a few square inches of foam from my pillow. Voila!

Right now I am in the process of eliminating issues with camera stability (camera-shake) in the form of a handy-dandy $15 shoulder mounted rig which gives me full functionality over the camera via a mounted wireless remote, several feet of PVC 1/2 inch piping, and a firm, steady platform to shoot from. More details, directions, and references will follow.

Thanks to the support and advice of my fellow photographers, I am undertaking several rather large projects for the next year, which will keep me very busy and (hopefully!) present many amazing shooting opportunities since I am currently (though, not for long) the only person shooting HD video.